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Milan Garçon on Breaking the Gender Binary

"I saw all of these different expressions of gender presentation, and it really just blew my mind."

On Beauty
milan garcon

Welcome to On Beauty, a series where we take a deep-dive look into one person's relationship to beauty, how that relationship has transformed over the years, and how they experience being seen. This week we're talking to Milan Garçon, a producer, media personality, and LGBTQ+ advocate who recently starred on season two of the HBO Max series Legendary.

Below, Garçon discusses growing up as a non-binary child in Ohio and how they grew confident and comfortable expressing their gender identity.

milan garcon

Photo: Courtesy of Milan Garcon

"Growing up in Cleveland, for a Black non-binary child, was very constricting. It was a city that had a different kind of life. It wasn't glamorized; you only saw the hustle, you only saw the struggle of Black people who've been systemically oppressed. And by that age, I knew I wasn't a boy or a girl, and I also knew I didn't like girls, so I never fit the expectations of what everyone was telling me to be. So I had to find my own way. I never got too attached to the city of Cleveland—there was no representation of people like me there. I left as soon as I could.

"My family life was amazing, though. My family is really supportive of me; they always have been, but I didn't give them that chance when I was younger. It's one of my biggest regrets, not coming out to my family sooner. I wish I hadn't felt like I had to hide so much because those were things that the world taught me and were passed down generationally, and little did I know my family was ready to break that generational curse. But I waited until my first year of college, when I moved away from Cleveland, to come out to my friends and family.

"I've always known that I was non-binary. Since I was little, I knew that I was not like the rest of the boys, even though I was assigned male at birth. Like, I get why y'all assigned me to this group, but I didn't fit in. As a kid, I would make DIY heels and sandals out of plastic and batteries; I tried on all of my mom's dresses. I was always this way, I just didn't have the vocabulary available at the time to name it.

"I remember thinking that I didn't want to be a girl, but if I could be a girl, just for a day, I would be so happy. When I moved to New York, I saw all of these different expressions of gender presentation, and it really just blew my mind. I was like, 'Wow, you can be who you are on the inside on the outside, too?'

milan garcon

Photo: Courtesy of Milan Garcon

"One of my beauty role models growing up was my mom—she is my love for makeup. In terms of what products I use and how my vanity is set up, it's gotten to the point where I'm like, 'Oh my god, I am my mother.' I started wearing makeup when I was 20 years old because I was at a modeling competition and I fell in love with how they did my makeup. I decided that I was going to learn how to do it and went out and bought all of these drugstore products.

"YouTube taught me how to do makeup—there was a 30-minute full face beat tutorial that I'd watch. I'd watch a step, pause, do my makeup, and repeat. This was around the time that Rihanna's album Anti came out; it would take me two full listens of that album to do my face. Now I can do my makeup in 15 minutes.

"I hate to be so cliché, but RuPaul is another one of my beauty idols. RuPaul was somebody that I would watch and think, "Well, that's somebody that was labeled a guy when they were born, but they don't look like a guy right now.'

milan garcon

Photo: Joshua Allen Harris

"College felt like a safer environment for me. In college I found two girls, Bianca and Simone, who I felt I could be myself around, and we all joined the same modeling troupe. From there, that's when I started to learn to walk runway. I would put on their wigs, their clothes, and their shoes, and we would perform and dance and have a good time. That's when I started exploring gender beyond the binary; I started to explore the presentation that I wanted versus the box that I was forcing myself to fit into.

"I had two internships with Fox29Philly in college. My first time there, I didn't wear makeup. But the second time around, even though there was the fear that I'd be shunned from the industry, I decided that I wanted to be myself at work. I started wearing lashes, foundation, and nothing changed—everyone still treated me the same. I left that internship with the confidence to be who I am, no matter where I'm at, and that's what I've done and continue to do.

"To me, beauty means loving your flaws until you don't see them anymore; it's realizing that you've been judging yourself on beauty standards that were never built for you. True beauty is seeing it through your eyes and not someone else's."

Part of the series:

On Beauty

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